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Tampa Bay juggles its crew

If you tune in for the Mutiny's game against the Columbus Crew tonight on television or radio, be forewarned:

Have your roster handy. Otherwise, you might be wondering just who the heck these players are.

+ All-Star defensive midfielder Martin Vasquez and forward Giuseppe Galderisi both somewhat foolishly picked up their fifth yellow cards in the waning moments of the Mutiny's 3-1 victory Sunday at Colorado and must sit out a game.

+ Defender Steve Pittman, who scored the winning goal in the recent MLS All-Star Game, received a one-game suspension from the Scottish Football Association on Monday for an incident that occurred in a Premier Division game . He serves that disciplinary action today.

+ Dazzling playmaker and co-captain Carlos Valderrama, the MVP of the All-Star Game who has been playing his best of late, is nursing a left hamstring injury and is doubtful.

"I've said from Day 1 and I've said it after games when we were missing some of our stars, some of our impact players, that we have a group of players who can compete with anybody," coach Thomas Rongen said.

That assertion of depth will be tested like never before as the Eastern Conference-leading Mutiny tries to extend its winning streak to three and the Crew's losing streak to six.

Although injuries and national team responsibilities have forced Rongen to rely on some

of his reserves before, never has he entered a game with so many of his top players out. Talk about a mutiny.

So, for you folks scoring at home, entering the game:

+ John Diffley probably will fill in for Pittman. He was a starter at the beginning of the season but has played sparingly since April 28.

+ Derek Backman, the former Tampa Bay Rowdie who started Sunday, will take over for Vasquez. He has appeared in 12 games with three starts.

+ Midfielder Goran Hunjak, who injured a knee June 30 at San Jose and hasn't played since, is expected back and will fill Valderrama's central midfield role.

+ Diego Viera, who didn't make the trip to Colorado after bruising his right shin on Friday, could join Roy Lassiter up front. He has scored four goals but has started once since June 8, against the Crew on July

4.

+ If Viera still is ailing, Rongen might move left wing Evans Wise to forward and insert Adam Frye on the left side of midfield. Frye has made just one start, May 11 at Colorado, and played just 73 minutes.

"That's really okay," All-Star defender and co-captain Cle Kooiman said of the piecemeal lineup. "We still have a very powerful offense and (goalkeeper) Mark (Dougherty) has been unbeatable. And we have a lot of confidence in all of our players; this is a great opportunity for the boys."

One the reserves have been awaiting.

"I've been kind of frustrated because I haven't played much," Backman said. "Coming in the last 10 minutes or so, you really can't do much. But that's the way it goes sometimes. . . .

"We all feel we can play and do well; as well as the (starting) guys."

That might not be mere rhetoric. At least, not on this night, on this field.

Ohio Stadium is the narrowest field in MLS at 62 yards and is tied with Spartan Stadium in San Jose as the shortest at 106 yards. The dimensions create congestion that bogs down a team such as the Mutiny that excels at moving the ball with short passes.

"It's not very conducive to playing good soccer," Rongen said of the Crew's pitch. "You get more of a blue-collar game there. And our players (filling in) have more of a blue-collar ethic and they'll be highly motivated. They're a hungry group. And work rate and desire on this field can make the difference."

TONIGHT: MUTINY AT CREW

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30, Ohio Stadium, Columbus.

TV/RADIO: ESPN2; WFNS-910, WAMA-1550.

RECORDS: Tampa Bay Mutiny 11-7, Columbus Crew 5-14.

COACHES: Tampa Bay _ Thomas Rongen; Columbus _ Timo Liekoski.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tampa Bay _ Roy Lassiter, F; Steve Ralston, M; Evans Wise, M/F; Cle Kooiman, D; Mark Dougherty, GK. Columbus _ Brian McBride, F; Adrian Paz, F; Doctor Khumalo, M; Robert Warzycha, M; Paul Caligiuri, D.

NOTES: The Mutiny, playing its third game in eight days, concludes its season series against Columbus. The Mutiny holds a 2-1 edge, including a 2-1 victory at Ohio Stadium on April 20. The Crew has lost five straight and its last six at home. In fact, the Crew is a league-worst 2-7 at home; no other team is below .500. Former University of Tampa all-America goalkeeper David Winner made his pro debut against the Mutiny on June 22 and keyed a win. He held the starter's job, but yielded to Bo Oshoniyi Sunday. Oshoniyi allowed four goals and the Crew is looking at former Kansas City Wiz keeper Pat Harrington. If he signs, he could start. The Crew defense is ailing; former U.S. national team star Brian Bliss is questionable with a strained right Achilles' tendon and Shane Battelle is out with a ruptured left knee ligament. Ticket windows at Tampa Stadium will be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday for Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the top team in the West. The stadium's north drive-through opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and ticket and will-call windows open at 4.

_ BRIAN LANDMAN

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